Milosevic Gets Hero's Burial in His Hometown

POZAREVAC, Serbia-Montenegro -- Slobodan Milosevic has been laid to rest beneath a tree in the backyard of the family estate in his hometown -- an anticlimactic end to one of the bloodiest chapters in the history of the turbulent Balkans.

The late Serbian leader's burial Saturday, a week after his death while on UN trial for genocide and crimes against humanity, followed a tense farewell ceremony in Belgrade that drew at least 80,000 nationalist supporters, and another in his birthplace attended by up to 20,000 admirers.

As a cold drizzle fell, his flag-draped coffin was lowered into a double grave with a place for his widow, Mirjana Markovic, who reportedly wants to join him when she dies.

The grave, marked with a simple marble slab inscribed with both of their names and the dates 1941-2006, was dug beneath a linden tree where the couple first kissed as high school sweethearts.

No immediate members of Milosevic's family attended. But in a letter read out at graveside, Markovic, who lives in self-imposed exile in Moscow because she faces Serbian charges of abuse of power during her husband's 13-year reign, said: "You have come back to our home to rest in the place you loved the most.

"You lost your life while fighting for noble causes. You were killed by villains. But I know you will live forever for all who wish to live like human beings," her letter said.

A letter from the couple's son, Marko Milosevic, expressed hope that the late president's death would "sober up the humiliated Serb people."

"To die for one's country means to live forever," his letter said.

Neither Marko Milosevic nor Slobodan Milosevic's brother, Borislav, attended the funeral. Both are living in Moscow, and Borislav Milosevic underwent heart surgery in a Moscow hospital last week.

Among the supporters in Pozarevac were several indicted war crimes suspects on temporary leave from the UN tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands. One, retired General Dragoljub Ojdanic, wore his military uniform.

After the burial, residents of the gritty industrial town 50 kilometers south of the capital waited in a long line to view the grave, which was framed by a crimson carpet and brass stands holding red velvet ropes.

In Belgrade, die-hard supporters -- many bused in by Milosevic's Socialist Party from Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo, where he started wars that led to Yugoslavia's bloody 1990s breakup -- packed a square in front of the federal parliament building in Belgrade.

Many wept uncontrollably and chanted "Slobo! Slobo!" at the sight of the flag-draped coffin on a bier atop a red-carpeted stage. Some clutched photographs of Milosevic or the UN court's two most-wanted fugitives: Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his wartime military chief, General Ratko Mladic.

Authorities refused to approve an official ceremony, but Saturday's farewell -- organized by the Socialists and technically private -- had some of the trappings of a state funeral.

But the crowd in Belgrade, though larger than many had expected, was far smaller than the 500,000 who turned out for the 2003 funeral of assassinated Serbian premier Zoran Djindjic, who had sent Milosevic to the tribunal two years earlier.

Milosevic died March 11 in a detention center near the tribunal, which was trying him on 66 counts of war crimes.

Ultranationalist leaders and at least five retired ex-Yugoslav Army generals wearing parade uniforms stood by.

"We are bidding farewell to the best one among us, fully conscious of his greatness," Socialist deputy president Milorad Vucelic said.

Bosko Nikolic, 42, holding a huge poster of Milosevic, said: "I came to say goodbye to the greatest son of Serbia."

But some drivers passing by the square honked their horns and made obscene gestures at the Milosevic supporters, underscoring the disgust many Serbs feel toward the late autocratic president.

"All of Belgrade's squares would be too small for all the victims of Milosevic and his rule," said Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic, twice targeted for assassination by the regime. "A murderer and his crimes were glorified today."